JASS Blog Archives for August 2008

by Martha Tholanah on August 9, 2008 on 12:26 am

The AIDS conference ended today. It has been an eventful week. I did not get to contribute to JASS blog as I tried to cram in as much of conference program as possible. There has been too much of interest to me, and this has left me without much breathing space. I got to network, socialize, and I love that. On Tuesday I presented on the Zimbabwean experience of civil society working on treatment monitoring and advocacy, in particular our contribution to “Missing the Target”. I missed a session I had intended to attend (yesterday) after coming across some people, like my namesake Martha who lives in the UK, and got into our own discussion about strategies on how we can boost health access issues in our small way for our country. We plan to continue with the plan and mobilize all those Zimbabwean healthcare professionals who are working in the UK.

Yesterday, I made my political presentation, titled “Ongoing Political Crises in Zimbabwe, Sexual Violence and HIV. It was difficult having to present from power point, as the effects of the politically motivated violence is a very emotional issue, and mostly I prefer to speak from my heart. Power point seems to disrupt and dilute my way of expression. Maybe I subconsciously had to sanitize the presentation because of fear of repercussions. It was scary doing that kind of presentation!! At the end of the day, I found myself trying to get to a reception I had been invited. Stupidly, I had not asked of details, and only understood it to be a reception for people who are involved in clinical trials. We got off the bus with Allegra at the Marriott Hotel, after braving almost two hours of the horrible Mexico City traffic, and rain was pouring down. The reception, to my horror, was hosted by Boeringer Ingelheim – big pharmaceutical company. I don’t like playing with big pharma, even if my life is dependent on them now since this is my sixth year on ARVs. However, the traffic and hunger by the time I got there ensured that I was on my best behaviour.

I was happy to hear Justice Edwin Cameron and Zonny Woods make their very inspiring and refreshing addresses in the final plenary this morning. Then we had the rapporteur session today to wrap up the conference. Points from my presentation were quoted! The rapporteur presentations by the youth, community, and policy and political sciences were the most human and addressed our issues. I went to get my certificate of attendance from the “Global Ghetto” while waiting for the closing ceremony to begin. The closing ceremony took longer than usual, as a few groups disrupted with their protests. The panel had no black African, but it was refreshing to see a young black woman “invade” the podium to deliver demand for housing for PLWHA.

The end of the ceremony was another chance to network and socialize, and I deliberately sought out Zimbabweans I had never met before. One Shona Catholic nun shocked me when she complained and wondered who was revealing the violence against women in Zimbabwe in an international forum like this one. She was referring to the reference made to issues coming out of my presentation that were quoted in the rapporteur session. One woman commented that someone had to start speaking for those who could not speak for themselves. The nun complained about the conference entertaining issues of sex workers and LGBTI. I was too shocked and walked away. The Catholic Church is one that I looked up to, especially with respect to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), which has always been at the forefront of letting the world know about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, particularly during the time when there were many killings in Matabeleland by the army.

This shows we still have a lot of work to do, and particularly crossing the line as women.

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by Lisa VeneKlasen on August 8, 2008 on 8:36 pm

Intl AIDS Conference, 2008 - JASSMexico City: August 7th, our last day together, was another action-packed 10 hours of motion as we tried to make the most of the conference and being together. A discussion about the complex world of microfinance led by Malena and Adriana -- how to navigate a world dominated by financial interests to get resources to enable women to feed their families and have time to organize and act politically? A discussion with Helena Hofbauer, Mexican budget wiz and feminist, to explore how women can track public money for healthcare, treatment, prevention, income generation, etc. Wandering about in the loud chaos of the global village, the hectic grand hallways of the official meeting; and our final panel: Political Crises, Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS, with our Martha Tholanah speaking powerfully about violence as part of the post-election chaos followed by Paula Donovan's (from AIDS FREE WORLD (a campaign co-founded with Stephen Lewis) explicit expose of the ferocious violence against women in the Congo, and the United Nation's half-baked and incomplete responses. Raced back in dense, endless, rainy traffic in time, collectively numbed and silenced by the cumulative impact of the conference and the horro of the final presentation, for a quick debrief in the middle of the hotel lobby. One after another, our final thoughts began with "exhausted" or "troubled" but mixed with an impossible volume of new information and perspectives to sift through. Mixed with a sense of pride and power at having been present and vocal amongst the experts, the salesmen, the managers and the policymakers. Martha said "We've been learning together in the context of workshops and now we faced power. It's different and much more."

The glaring contradictions of the conference are disorienting, troubling, enraging, intimidating -- from the fact that the "global village" full of "activists" is in the middle of a horse race track, and the first booth you see when you enter on one side is Glaxosmithkline Pharmaceuticals, placed alongside booths about people's empowerment to blur the power differences and conflict of interests in this fight. The creative resistance of lesbian activists, transgender groups, unionists, indigenous people, HIV+women, men and children reduced to a series of booths and shows on a stage. Alejandra added her disgust at how all things mexican had been reduced to decorations and stuff to sell. We couldn't help but feel that the gains of painful, past struggles for a voice at the table had been coopted and manipulated to legitimize the continued dominance of corporate, international aid and non-profit interests in the scramble for money that fail to reach or respond to those who need it in the fight against AIDS -- and most importantly for us, women. All this, and we still feel hopeful. Energized by the three women amonst us who spoke on panels, by the excitement of t-shirts WOMEN CROSSING THE LINE generated. By the clear recognition that gender equality and gender violence have made their way into the "experts" parlance and policymakers mouths. Huge victories for many who've fought this fight many years. So, for us, putting words into action and resources into women's hands is where we have to direct the power of our numbers and continue to cross the line for women's lives and rights. We met a lot of extraordinary people and feel privileged to be in Mexico city. Next stop, Cape Town, November.

One other moment that thrilled me during our time here -- aside from our digital stories workshop and Patience and Martha's presentations -- was our crossregional dialogue between African, Mesoamerican, European and North American women -- an open conversation about our context, political aims and possible ways and reasons to organize our collective power. And with radio feminista broadcasting live with virtual participation from our feminist friends in Costa Rica. Old fashioned political dialogue -- the essence of building collective power among women -- multiplied and documented on the information highway by technology. How cool is that!?

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by Patience Mandishona on August 6, 2008 on 11:45 am

Patience Mandishona speaking at 2008 AIDS ConferenceTuesday at the IAC was an action packed day for me. I got to speak in front of a lot of people which was a new experience for me and it definitely made me feel more empowered. Before I got on stage I was telling myself that I cant do this, but at the same time I told myself this is the an opportunity for me to tell my story. Having the women from Jass there helped me a lot because they encouraged me and told me I could do it. As I sat on the panel I scribbled a lot of things I would want to say but when I was eventually introduced and had to speak I totally forgot it all and just spoke from my heart. Issues of violence affect me deeply as I have also had personal experiences of violence and its also common in the environment I currently live in. After I was done and the comments were now being made, I felt great about myself and that there were people who were in solidarity with me and the work I do.

I appreciate being a part of the Jass process as it has given me the opportunity to share with a lot of great women issues that affect all of us. After the session I met up with so many different people who are currently working on such issues. I was then invited to speak at another meeting talking about the invisibility of WSW within the HIV/AIDS movement and the women's movement in general. It was a great place for me to share with others around the world on this issues and it was more relaxing now because it was not in front of such a big crowd so I was not as nervous as I was the first time. After that talk I then rushed over to the Cross Regional Dialogue. This was also an eye opening event for me as I got to listen to women's different experiences in Mexico, Spain and Africa. You get to realize that the group was so dynamic and the experiences shared are so different. As I listened to some of the women talking about legalizing abortion, I looked at the context where I was coming from and realized that we still have a long way to go as issues the legality of abortion were not even on our agendas yet. This was a great learning experience foe me especially talking about the strategies they used and appreciated the work that they were doing currently.

As we go into our final days in Mexico I am looking forward to being a part of a larger process especially having met other women from a different part of the world. I hope that the process will continue and we will share with each other regularly on the work we are doing and we would like to do collectively as Jass. By the way I am Patience Mandishona from GALZ.My final words are lets Keep Crossing the Line....

Attending 2008 AIDS Conference

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